Acta Theriologica 39 (1): 103-107, 1994.
P L IS S N 0001-7051
Summer diet of the sable Marłeś zibellina
in the Middle Yenisei taiga, Siberia
Brzeziński M. 1994. Summer diet of the sable Martes zibellina in the Middle Yenisei
taiga, Siberia. Acta theriol. 39: 103-107.
The summer food of the sable Martes zibellina Linnaeus, 1758, inhabiting taiga
forests near Mirnoe Field Station on Middle Yenisei, Siberia, was studied by the
analysis of 136 scats. Microtinae rodents (mainly northern red-backed vole Clethrionomys rutilus) constituted 52.3% of biomass consumed by sables. Plant food (seeds of
Siberian pine Pinus sibirica and berries of Vaccinium sp.) was also frequently eaten;
they occurred in 79.4% o f scats but constituted only 19.9% of biomass. Shrews,
burunduks Eutamias sibiricus, birds and insects were supplementary food, however,
these groups of prey formed totally about 25% of consumed biomass.
Department o f Ecology, University of Warsaw, Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28, 00-927
Warsaw, Poland
Key words: Martes zibellina, diet, Siberia
Sable Martes zibellina Linnaeus, 1758 is the mustelid species which, due to its
valuable pelt, has inspired human interest for centuries (Numerov 1963). The
numerous studies done by Russian biologists showed that: (1) sable is an oppor­
tunistic predator feeding on many kinds of prey, (2) the diet of sable in its wide
geographic range varies considerably (Nadeev 1967, Nasimovic and Timofeev 1973,
Sokolov 1978, Monahov and Bakeev 1981). This paper presents the data on sable
diet, collected during the expedition to Siberia in summer 1992.
Study area, material and methods
Sable scats were collected in August 1992 on the right bank of Yenisei River, on the area of about
150 km2, in the neighbourhood of the Northern Ecological Station Mirnoe of the Institute of Evolu­
tionary Morphology and Ecology of Animals, Russian Academy of Sciences (62°20’N, 89°00’E). The
taiga forests around the station have been exposed to human activity but more distant parts of the
forest remained unaffected by man. Tree stands are dominated by: Pinus sibirica, Picea obovata,
Betula alba, Populus tremula, Larix sibirica, Pinus silvestris and Abies sibirica. In this part of Siberia
the mean temperature in June is 14 to 17°C. Snow usually melts in April/May.
M. Brzeziński
Altogether, 136 scats were found from June to August. The excrements were washed through the
sieve and dried (Lockie 1959). The identification of food remains was based on seeds, rodent and
shrew skeletons, teeth and hair, that I collected in the study area during the expedition. The food
composition was presented as (1) percentage occurrence of an item in the whole sample of scats and
(2) percentage biomass of an item in the total biomass consumed per one scat. The consumed biomass
was estimated using following correction factors: shrews and rodents - 23, birds - 35 (Goszczyński
1974 for Vulpes uulpes), amphibians and reptiles - 18 (Fairley et al. 1987 for Mustela vison), insects
- 5, fruits - 14 (Lockie 1961 for Martes martes). I assumed the correction factor of pine seeds to be 2,
because the weight o f shells (a defecated part of consumed seeds) constitutes about 50% of seed total
weight. Despite the fact that correction factors were calculated for other pradators than the sable, it
seems that percentage biomass method gives more accurate view of the real contribution of particular
food items to the sable diet than the percentage occurrence method.
Microtines were the most important component of the sable diet, they made
52.3% of consumed biomass (Table 1). Clethrionomys rutilus was the most fre­
quently eaten rodent (33.1% of occurrence). The only food item which was found
in the sable scats more often than voles were seeds of Pinus sibirica - 66.2% of
occurrence. However, the seeds composed only 10.3% of the total biomass. Simi­
larly, Vaccinium sp. berries which occurred in 29.4% of the samples made a small
part of the eaten biomass (7.4%). Altogether, plant material was recorded in 79.4%
of scats and was an important supplement (19.9% of biomass) to the main food.
The remains of shrews were found nearly in 30% of scats. Burunduks Eutamias
sibiricus and birds occurred in the sable diet more rarely than shrews (both 8.1%)
but the contribution of these 3 items to the consumed biomass was comparable
(9.3%, 5.0% and 9.3%, respectively). Other small mammals (Sicista betulina,
Sciurus vulgaris, Talpa altaica), frogs and lizzards were eaten by sables only
ocasionally. Sables fed on wasps, probably digging up their nests. However, despite
of considerable percentage occurrence in scats (22.8%), insects due to their very
small biomass seem to be unimportant food.
In general, small rodents, Vaccinium sp. berries and seeds of Siberian pine
dominate sable diet all over its geographic range (Abramov 1967, Nadeev 1967,
Nasimovic and Timofeev 1973, Monahov and Bakeev 1981). Besides these food
items, the sable feeds on many other plants and animals, thus it is commonly
classified as a generalist predator (Tavrovskii and Sitarev 1957, Abramov 1967,
Nasimovic and Timofeev 1973, Sokolov 1978, Monahov and Bakeev 1981). Both
seasonal and long term changes in the sable diet resulting from the fluctuations
of prey abundance were reported by Lavov (1959), Romanov (1959), Zaleker and
Poluzadov (1959), Abramov (1967), Nadeev (1967), and Nasimovic and Timofeev
Diet of sables from Siberia
Table 1. Diet composition of the sable Martes zibellina in summer (June - August) 1992,
in taiga forests on Yenisei river, Siberia, n = 136 scats, % Occurrence - per cent scats
containing a given item, % Biomass — per cent of total biomass consumed per 1 scat.
Prey item
Pinus sibirica
Vaccinium myrtillus
Vaccinium vitis-idaea
Vaccinium sp.
Vaccinium - subtotal
Rubus sp.
Ribes sp.
Undetermined plants
Plant material - subtotal
Clethrionomys rutilus
Clethrionomys rufocanus
Clethrionomys sp.
Clethrionomys - subtotal
Microtus oeconomus
Undetermined Microtinae
Microtinae - subtotal
Eutamias sibiricus
Sicista betulina
Sciurus vulgaris
Sorex caecutiens
Sorex araneus
Sorex isodon
Sorex sp.
Sorex —subtotal
Talpa altaica
Insectivora - subtotal
Bird eggs
Rana chensinensis
Rana sp.
Anura - subtotal
Lacerta vivipara
Undetermined Insecta
Insecta - subtotal
Mean biomass per 1 scat (g)
% Occurrence
% Biomass
The results from Mirnoe are comparable to the former data on the sable diet
obtained in northern forests of Yenisei river region (see Monahov and Bakeev
1981) and nearby Tunguska river region (see Romanov 1959, Petrov 1979). The
frequency of small rodent remains found in the sable scats was moderate, but the
M. Brzeziński
total biomass of consumed microtines exceeded the biomass of any other group of
prey. The dominance of C. rutilus reflects its abundance in the studied area (B.
Sheftel, unpubl.). Alike, Tavrovskii and Sitarev (1957) found that the high
proportion of C. rutilus in the sable diet was due to its numbers in the rodent
Larger rodents (Eutamias sibiricus and Sciurus vulgaris) were very rarely
found to be a dominant prey and their occurrence in scats usually did not exceed
10% (Timofeev 1948, Lavov 1959, Ćernikin 1970, Makovkin 1979). Alike birds,
shrews and insects were in most studies the secondary food of the sable (review
in Nasimovic and Timofeev 1973, Monahov and Bakeev 1981). However, in some
regions (as in winter in West Siberia) birds may compose up to 80% of the eaten
prey (Monahov and Bakeev 1981). In the diet of sables from Mirnoe all these
groups of prey constituted supplementary food.
I recorded fairly high contribution of insectivores to the sable diet. Former data
from many parts of Siberia showed much lower consumption of shrews by the
sable, their contribution usually did not exceed 10% (review in Monahov and
Bakeev 1981). The reason, why shrews are avoided by mammalian carnivores is
probably their bad taste (Korpimaki and Norrdahl 1989). In Mirnoe, shrew species
found in the sable scats dominated in the community of insectivores and densities
of two shrew species: Sorex caecutiens and S. araneus were comparable to densities
of C. rutilus (B. Sheftel, unpubl.).
Many authors point out the importance of plants, especially pine seeds, in the
sable diet (review in Monahov and Bakeev 1981). Nasimovic and Timofeev (1973)
sugest that pine seeds are so important to sable that the geographic range of this
predator is related to the range of Siberian pine. Pine seeds were indeed commonly
eaten by sables in Mirnoe. Seed abundance in early summer is usually the lowest,
thus the consumption of this plant food by sables decreases comparing to other
seasons (Ćernikin 1970). However, in several regions of Siberia, the occurrence of
pine seed remains in sable scats may reach in summer about 50% (review in
Monahov and Bakeev 1981). Pine seeds are highly energetic food but they are
poorly digestible thus, the percentage occurrence method may often overestimate
the real importance of this food item for sables. In summer seeds and fruits may
be an important supplement to the sable diet but it is unlikely that they may
become the basic food.
In this season sables have wider food spectrum than in other months of the
year (Timofeev 1948, Abramov 1967, Makovkin 1979). Besides rodents, which are
the main prey, also fruit, birds, eggs, nestlings, amphibians and insects are easily
available. The sable generalistic feeding habits seem to be an important ability
of an animal living in habitats of variable levels of food resources (Raevskii 1947,
Timofeev 1948, Abramov 1967).
Acknowledgements: I am very grateful to Dr B. Sheftel for data on the rodent and insectivore
densities in the study area. My thanks are also due to him and all other persons from Mirnoe Field
Station who helped me to collect the comparative material of mammalian species. I thank Dr B.
Jędrzejewska for comments on the manuscript and improving the English.
Diet of sables from Siberia
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Received 13 August 1993, accepted 5 February 1994.

Summer diet of the sable Martes zibellina in the Middle Yenisei taiga